The Big Debate; GM Foods Or No GM Foods

Posted: March 1, 2014 in Essays
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gm Technology has made many things a possibility.  Biotechnology or genetic engineering has been widely applied in biomedical research, food, medicine, sanitation, agriculture and others in what has come to be called genetically modified organisms [GMOs]. The World Health Organisation [WHO] defines GMOs as organisms in which the genetic material [ DNA]  has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally. Biotechnology has given a precise control over traditional breeding techniques. Traditionally, organisms that exhibit specific traits are chosen for breeding the subsequent generations through pollination and mating. This is limited to naturally occurring variations. Genes dictate these desired traits. Biotechnology gives us the opportunity to look for the specific gene that controls the desired trait and incorporate it into a completely unrelated species [Twumasi, 2014]. Crop plants, farm animals and bacteria are some of the more prominent examples of organisms that have been subject to this technology [Philips, 2008]. Bacteria for example have been altered to produce human insulin by incorporating into it the human insulin gene. Diabetics have immensely benefited from this. In 1986, human growth hormone gene was incorporated into and produced in tobacco plants [Barta et al., 1986]. This was followed by the pharmaceutical production of antibody in 1989 [Hiatt et al., 1989]. In biomedical research, the use of genetically modified animals is indispensable as they are used as models in studying disease pathogeneses. Potential GMOs applications include using microbes as clean fuel producers and biodegraders, production of recombinant vaccine, oral vaccine, commercial production of valuable protein such as spider silk protein and polymers that are used in surgery or tissue replacement [Ma et al., 2003], using genetically modified animals to grow transplant tissues and human transplant organs, a concept called xenotransplantation [ Philips, 2008].

 One of the many applications of GMOs that has been become controversial is GM foods. GM foods are produced by specifically changing their genetic material. Genetic material of organisms consists of DNA or RNA that serves as the blueprint dictating the physical characteristics of the organisms [Twumasi, 2014]. Genes are the part or segment of the DNA that are instructional and give the phenotypic differences when the organisms grow. Genetic diversity in fact has been the basis of categorization of organisms into classes, genera, species and breeds.

How GM foods are produced.

The Human Genome Project which was commenced with the goal ‘’of determining the sequence of chemical base pairs which make up human DNA, and of identifying and mapping all genes of the human genome from both a physical and functional standpoint’’ made available tools and techniques that have been used in sequencing other organisms. Because the entire genome has been sequenced, the genes can be altered and/or moved around when their functions are known. Those genes can be taken out and incorporated into completely unrelated species so they can produce the desired trait [phenotype].

GM foods in Ghana.

The Crops Research Institute [CRI] of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research

[CSIR]and other research institutional arms of CSIR have been long involved in the

development ofnewly improved varieties and breeds of crops and animals respectively through natural selection

and lately, artificial means. Locally, their ‘‘products” have been called ‘’agric   akoko’’ and the

likes. In 2011, the Biosafety Law was passed to ‘’allow the application of

biotechnology in food crop production involving GMOs to enter food production.’’ In

2013, the Plant Breeders Bill appeared on the floor of parliament for consideration .It got

passed by parliament and assented to by the president. It is an act to provide for the grant  and protection of plant breeder rights and related matters. New, distinct, uniform  and stable varieties will be considered for breeder rights [Plant Breeders Act, 2013]. The first-ever known genetically

modified food to be planted in Ghana was Nitrogen Use Efficient [NUE] rice in August, 2013 [Ghana Herald, 2013] with others like sweet potato and cowpea approved to undergo confined field trials. No commercial production has started yet in Ghana.

Benefits of GM foods.

Some of the commonest examples of the benefits of GMOs can be found in agriculture. It

includes increased crop yields, reduced cost of food production , enhanced nutrient and  food quality, resistance to pest and diseases, food with better texture and flavor and greater food

security because of longer shelf life.  Rice has for example been enriched with Vitamin A by incorporating into it the three genes responsible for the manufacture of beta-carotene, a precursor to Vitamin A [Philips, 2008]. B.t. corn is helping to eliminate the application of chemical pesticides. Monsanto has created a strain of soybeans genetically modified to be unaffected by their herbicide product Roundup [Whitman, 2000].  There is a possibility of using genes of tolerant plants species into agricultural crops so that crops can be grown in extreme environmental conditions like high salinity soil.  Transgenic potato plants that have been produced and tested successfully by utilizing genetically engineered food to deliver pharmaceutical immunization against diarrhea [www.classes.soe.ucsc.edu].  

Disadvantages of GM foods.

Plants that produce their own insecticide, a bacterial toxin called Bacilus thuringiensis [BT] have led to BT- resistant bugs. In 1999, Nature reported pollen from B.t. corn caused high mortality rates in caterpillar. A study that suggested that B.t. toxin kill insect indiscriminately was reexamined by USDA and the US Environmental Protection Agency [Whitman, 2000].  Another concern is the possibility of gene transfer to non-target species. Some of the effects of GMOs on human health may be unpredictable. It is hard to predict how the body will react to something that is normally absent in human diet. Many GMOs companies do not label their products [www.healthblog.world.edu]. There concerns over seemingly monetary pursuit of biotechnology companies. Monsanto for example has taken small scale farmers to court for obtaining their seeds illegally when actually they got those seeds as a result of cross-pollination.

Market size of GM foods.

GM foods have been on the market for nearly 20 years since 1996. The USDA reports that about 94 percent of all soy and 75 percent of all corn grown in the United States are genetically modified. It is estimated that as much as 75 percent of processed foods sold in US are GMOs [ www.newportnaturalhealth.com].  It is possible that GM foods have already entered Africa taking these statistics and the work of USAID into consideration.

Conclusion.

I do not believe that GM foods is another way for colonization. In any case, the Ghanaian scientist has built  capacity in order to do that herself. My conclusion here is based on my conviction and conscience as a human being. I attempt logical deduction with this.  The benefits of GM foods  are tempting but the cons can not be overlooked. The pros of GM foods can be achieved through other procedures and  policies. The cons can not be undone. In  my view, GM foods should be rejected at least for the moment being until it becomes fully safe.

 

Refrences.

Twumasi, P. [2014] GM  Foods; Understanding the  science and the Ghanaian Society. Daily Graphic.

Whitman, D.B. [2000] Genetically Modified Foods; Harmful or Helpful.

www.classses.soe.ucsc.edu/c0pe80e/Spring05/projects/gmo/benefits.html.

Philips, T. [2008] Genetically Modified Organisms; Transgenic Plants And Recombinant DNA Technology. Nature Education.

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Comments
  1. rojj says:

    Interesting piece. Let us not also forget the effect of GMOs on extraction of seeds for resowing and the fact that even with basic fundamental agriculture we have failed,how much more GMOs

    Like

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